Think + Do » an exploration of nonprofit marketing and design

Favorite Links: July 2013

We’re always in search of fresh thinking on issues that affect nonprofit marketing. Here’s some recent favorites:

The Slow Death of the Homepage
eConsultancy

Tell a Four-Word Story
Medium.com

Have You Asked Them What They Need?
Stanford Social Innovation Review

Can Four Economists Build the Most Economically Efficient Charity Ever?
The Atlantic

Building a Solid Foundation

Website projects often start with a lot of enthusiasm. People are tempted to jump right to the “fun” parts of web design, getting excited about the potential new look, features and functionality. This is like picking out drapes and paint chips for a new house before a blueprint has been made.

People within an organization usually begin a website redesign with ideas for how to change the existing site. And while that’s a good place to start, the most valuable ideas should come from your site’s users. To improve your audience’s experience on the new site, consider the following:

Analyze your existing site

The first thing you need to know is what content your visitors are looking at. Your web host should be able to provide statistics on web page views and how people find your site. Google Analytics can also be installed on sites for free. Often, people are surprised to find which pages are being looked at and which are not. Ultimately, a thorough website content audit will answer two questions: What’s there? And, is it any good?

Gather insights, not just facts

Website statistics only provide information about existing content. Focus groups or one-on-one interviews can help identify needs that are currently unmet, or features that are difficult for your visitors to find or use. Focus on understanding your user’s needs rather than on current habits. Ask why they visit your site, what other sites they visit, and what needs are met there. What are they not finding on the web? Can you fill that need?

Users can also help you organize the site. Find out what categories they want to see in the main navigation, and what information they would expect to find in each category. While no two people will organize a website exactly the same way, look for patterns that will help you choose the best path to information.

Test your assumptions

Make time for usability testing. You don’t need video cameras, statistically valid samples, or white lab coats. Conducting a web usability test can be as simple as sitting with a test subject at a computer. Ask them to articulate their needs. Ask them to perform tasks. Then watch and listen.

It’s important to conduct usability tests early (and often) in your project. As web usability consultant Steve Krug says in his book Don’t Make Me Think, “Testing one user early is better than testing 50 near the end.” This allows for an iterative process in which your design continually moves closer and closer to the ideal solution.

By employing a process that includes data analysis, insights from your site’s users, and usability testing throughout, your new website will have a solid foundation. This provides the best chance of building a successful website, one which meets your audience’s needs.

Next, onto an even tougher problem: settling on a content strategy

– Claire Napier

I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For

The shopping experience at my local “super” retailer often goes something likes this: I walk into the store hoping for a quick trip to pick up a roll of masking tape. After half an hour searching in “Office Supplies,” an employee finally takes me to find it in the hardware section.

When we’ve conducted web usability tests, we have seen a lot of people with experiences similar to my shopping trip. They enter a website with a specific task, then get frustrated when the information they seek is not in the expected section.

When web users get frustrated, they tend to give up. A recent report on university websites underscores the importance of easy site navigation:

  • 92% of prospective students will be disappointed or walk away if they can’t find what they’re looking for.
  • 65% said that they would be more interested in a college because of a good web experience.

In our research, we have found web users overwhelmingly prefer indexed navigation. The idea is similar to a sitemap, but instead of showing the whole site the navigation shows only the most relevant information. Indexed navigation eliminates much of the site users’ guessing by showing what kinds of things each category includes.

Image of indexed navigation.

Indexed navigation (highlighted) is organized by topic and provides users easy access to the information they seek.

When creating an indexed navigation it’s important to ask users what information is important to them, and where do they expect to find it. What kind of categories are they looking for in the main navigation? What kind of information do they expect to see under those headings? Does the wording in the navigation reflect what falls in those categories?

The answers to these questions may be surprising. External audiences often view your website differently. What seems obvious or interesting to you may not be important to someone who’s visiting your site for the first time.

When organizing a site, it’s important to show your users the big picture. The easier it is for people to find what they’re looking for, the better the website experience will be.

Examples of sites with indexed navigation

University of Minnesota

Boston University

 

– Claire Napier

 

Designing for Accessibility Means Better Websites for Everyone

Because it appears to affect relatively few people, web accessibility isn’t often top-of-mind during the design and coding process. I’ve found, however, that considering accessibility earlier in the process can help improve the web experience for all users.

Earlier in my career, I was more focused on the way a site appeared than how the code was organized. When I started incorporating accessibility guidelines into my work, I discovered sites could be built more efficiently without sacrificing visual appeal.

There are many advantages to designing an accessible website. Most importantly, it is highly beneficial to site navigation. Sometimes the most visually logical way to create navigation makes for unnecessarily complicated code. Because accessible menus generally operate on less code, site users experience no lag time when waiting for a hover state or a dropdown menu to appear.

Accessible websites make your site more visible to search engines because images with text require a live text equivalent. Additionally, because they follow standard coding protocols, accessible websites are easier to manage and update.

Focusing on web accessibility earlier in the process means all content is properly coded, leading to simpler sites with cleaner typography. The result: Websites that work better for all users because both the design and production were considered, together, early in the process.

Learn More About Accessible Web Design

 

An introduction to accessibility:

http://www.w3.org/WAI/intro/accessibility.php

Website accessibility checklist:

http://www.webaim.org/standards/wcag/checklist

A guide to creating accessible image-based navigation:

http://simplebits.com/notebook/2003/09/30/accessible_imagetab_rollovers.html

College Web Pages Are ‘Widely Inaccessible’ to People With Disabilities

http://chronicle.com

 

– Claire Napier